March 24, 2011

Trojans a “Natural Selection” at SxSw

SCA Graduates’ Film Wins Seven Awards

In the world of filmmaking, it’s rare when the audience and the critic’s award are in sync. This year at the South by Southwest film festival, SCA alumnus Robbie Pickering ‘06 wrote and directed Natural Selection which took home seven awards including Best Narrative Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Breakthrough Performance for both Rachael Harris and Matt O’Leary, Best Score and the Audience Award for best Narrative Feature. Stark alumnus Brian Hambel ‘06 produced the film.

Natural Selection Won Seven Awards at SxSW

“I didn't know what to expect going in,” said Pickering. “I had been at festivals before with shorts, but never with a feature, and never at a festival quite as big as SxSW. The best part about it was how enthusiastic audiences were to watch the movie. We premiered at 10:45 am on Sunday morning, and it was daylight savings to boot. So it was really 9:45 am for all intents and purposes. Initially I was livid. I thought my film was being dumped. But a great crowd turned out and we eventually won the audience award off of that screening.”

Natural Selection tells the story of Linda White, a sheltered housewife in Texas who finds out that her dying husband has an illegitimate twenty-three year old son in Florida. She honors his last wish and sets off to find his child, who turns out to be an ex-con with a troubled past.

“Robbie's success as the writer/director speaks directly to the power of storytelling and strong writing skills. He is a true inspiration to our students,” said Interim Chair of the Writing Division Mary Sweeney.

When asked about how his education in the Division of Writing for Screen and Television effected his work, Pickering commented, “I always use this pyramid analogy that [Writing Division professor] Ted Braun taught all of us: A good script is constructed like a pyramid. The bottom pillar, the foundation, is character -- that is, a protagonist with a clear internal conflict, a clear want vs. need. The next pillar up, and the second most important component of the pyramid, is story. This comes out of the main character's want and need, and is different from plot. Story in this instance, is the emotional journey of the character. The next pillar up on the pyramid, of course, is plot. Plot is what is happening onscreen. Story is what is happening emotionally. The last and smallest pillar on the pyramid is style. This is the icing on the cake, and as such appears to most film students as the most important element of a picture. But style is really voice, and I believe that one's voice comes out naturally only once the writer is fluent with all the other elements of the pyramid.”

“The problem with most writers when they start out --myself included-- is that they tend to build the pyramid upside-down. Style is the first concern, and incidentally, the thing least under your control, then plot, then story and character is the last thing to be considered. No matter what you write -- TV, features, plays -- this will only lead to bad work.”

Natural Selection has been selected as part of Roger Ebert’s Film Festival in April. Pickering and his team are currently seeking distribution.